Note: This story was updated at 9:05 p.m.
Tennessee Governor Bill Lee on Friday granted county mayors in most of Tennessee to require or recommend face masks.
The governor’s order, Executive Order 54, is meant to allow county mayors to respond to significant increases in COVID-19 cases.
Tennessee’s densely populated areas, including the Memphis and Nashville areas, continue to have many of the state’s COVID-19 cases.
But local governments want more flexibility to respond to rising cases, and that includes “setting stronger expectations around masks,” Lee said in a press release Friday evening.
“This targeted approach ensures we protect both lives and livelihoods and safely keep our economy open in Tennessee,” the governor said. “We encourage every Tennessean across the state to use a face covering or mask, make sure to socially distance, and wash hands frequently.”
The governor’s order applies to 89 of Tennessee’s 95 counties, including Anderson and Roane counties.
Anderson County Mayor Terry Frank wasn’t immediately available Friday evening to comment about what Anderson County might do. It’s not clear if Anderson County was one of the local governments that might have requested more flexibility.
The other six of the 95 counties—Davidson, Hamilton, Knox, Madison, Shelby, and Sullivan—have locally run health departments. They already have the authority to require masks.
Lee’s order said that wearing a mask or cloth face covering is a simple step that Tennessee residents can take to help slow the spread of the virus. That, in turn, will help prevent the state from having to take more drastic and disruptive actions such as closing businesses, which would be bad for the economy and job market, the governor said.
If county mayors were to require face masks, people would not be expected to wear one if they are:
- inside their home or vehicle, unless they are transporting someone for hire;
- a child 12 years old or younger;
- someone who has trouble breathing because of an underlying health condition or another medical or health-related reason that prevents them from wearing a face covering;
- someone who is incapacitated or otherwise unable to remove the cloth face covering without help;
- eating or drinking;
- outdoors, unless they can’t substantially maintain an appropriate distance (usually six feet or more) from other people who are not from the person’s household;
- working under conditions where appropriate social distancing from people outside of the person’s home is substantially maintained;
- in situations where wearing a face covering would pose a safety or security risk;
- in a house of worship unless required by that house of worship, but wearing a face covering in such locations is strongly encouraged; or
- in a voting site for the purpose of voting or administering an election, although wearing a face covering in such locations is strongly encouraged.
The governor said COVID-19, a new illness caused by a new coronavirus, remains a threat to Tennessee residents, its health care systems, and economy.
“Each Tennessean should continue to protect themselves and others by following applicable health guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and other leading medical experts to slow the spread of this virus, including practicing social distancing, effective personal hygiene practices, and ‘wear(ing) cloth face coverings in public settings and when around people who don’t live in your household, especially when other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain,'” Lee’s press release said.
His order said the need to require or recommend a face covering in each of the 89 counties could depend upon the spread of COVID-19 there, and local governments are best able to make that decision based on the conditions in their communities.
The governor’s order urges people in Tennessee to wear face coverings in public places. Cloth face coverings can be created from household items or made at home from common materials at low cost, the order said. Cloth face coverings should not be placed on children younger than two years old, anyone with breathing problems, or anyone who is incapacitated or otherwise unable to remove the mask without help, the order said. It said surgical masks and N-95 respirators should be reserved for health care workers and first responders.
The order will remain in effect through 11:59 p.m. August 3.